“Bananas! Bananas! Bananas!”
It was the first day of my sophomore year of high school, and everyone in my English class was acting nuts.
The girl on my left was screaming like a starving monkey. The boy on my right stood on his chair and began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Another girl raced to the front of the room and scribbled her name on the chalkboard.
I slumped farther down in my chair just wanting to disappear.
Three months earlier, I had tried to kill myself, but a new state, a new town, and a new school couldn’t fix the abuse I experienced at home.
The teachers at my old school made it abundantly clear that despite failing 5 classes, I would advance to the next year because they thought I would try to kill myself again if they didn’t.
They were right, but the change in scenery didn’t wipe away my despair.
At the start of class, my English teacher Mrs. P had passed out a fun quiz to determine whether we could follow directions. She was in her mid 20s with her golden blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun, and it was obvious that she was trying to look older and more authoritative.
Instead of following the list of silly activities, I handled my paper back to Mrs. P and returned to my seat.
A few of the kids gave me weird looks but soon got back to drawing 50 stars on their quizzes or yodeling. I was that depressed chick who refused to do her work.
But I knew something they didn’t know.
The first prompt on the quiz said, “Read all the instructions before beginning.” A long list of ridiculous tasks followed.
But the very last prompt said, “Ignore all the above instructions. Write your name at the top of this page and turn it in.”
I was the only student in my class who followed the directions. I looked over at Mrs. P who was sitting at her desk and looking very pleased.
She smiled at me. I smiled back.
Mrs. P stopped me after class and insisted that I join the speech team. Two things happened in that moment: (1) I cemented my reputation as the biggest dork in school and (2) the direction of my life changed forever.
My Type A personality had been waiting for a chance to thrive. Mrs. P taught me about writing persuasively, projecting my voice, using eye contact to get what I wanted, and standing in my power.
I never had anyone believe in me the way she did. Don’t get me wrong, high school was still full of bullying and tedious busy work, but now I spent my afternoons in the safety of the school practicing my speeches.
My Saturdays were packed with tournaments and trophies, so different from the beatings and abuse at my house.
One of my favorite memories was the long road trip in Mrs. P’s car to the state finals at the end of the year. It was just the 2 of us eating snacks and singing Cher songs at the top of our lungs.
Mrs. P trusted me to give speeches about what mattered to me: eating disorders, suicide, and gay rights. One of the reasons I won so many tournaments was because I would say the things that other 15-year-olds were too scared to acknowledge.
“You are amazing, and I love you!” she said as she hugged me before my final event of my high school career.
Mrs. P’s guidance and friendship transformed my outlook on life, and I know I wouldn’t have survived high school—literally—without the speech team.
I used my newfound confidence to exceed in other areas: joining student government in college, becoming a newspaper reporter, and even book editing (where I got to tell people they were wrong on a daily basis).
Years later, I still use the techniques Mrs. P taught me now that I’m a life coach. The warm eye contact, the open-palmed gestures, the dramatic pauses.
Public speaking is essential to my business, and being a confident speaker helps my clients absorb my advice and believe in themselves.
Last year I hosted my very first live event, Life Editor Weekend. It’s the highlight of my career, and I felt like my best self when I was teaching on stage in front of my fellow Life Editors.
I’d never been more sure of myself or more sure that I could help my clients succeed.
And I owe much of my success to the teacher who always believed in me.
Thanks for everything, Mrs. P. You saved my life.
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